Seek DIY: Natural Dyes at Home
We know that for the time being we aren’t able to do our Seek Salons in person, where we often like to incorporate experiences related to the Seek process. So we have been brainstorming on how to bring a Seek Salon experience to you at home. First up is natural eco-dyeing, as a lot of Seek Collective goods are naturally dyed. You can learn more about our natural dye partner here and the process here. For this at-home workshop, we are using materials you probably already have!
Below we break down some simple instructions on how to dye fabric using black tea, avocado pits, red onion skins, turmeric, or flowers. Dyeing with natural materials can be explored much more than we have here so if this is fun and interesting for you, we have book recommendations at the bottom so that you could go even further.
-These natural dyes are for natural materials only...think cotton, silk, wool. No synthetics or natural/synthetic blends.
-We have tried them on cotton and silk here so you can see how the same dye can come out looking on different materials.
-Adjective dyes require something called a mordant, which is something that helps the color adhere to the fabric. Alum is often used for this but we did not use for this "workshop". Much of these here, such as black tea, purple onion skins, and avocado pits, naturally have tannins, which act as a co-mordant. Substantive dyestuff binds to fabric without the aid of a mordant. An example of this is turmeric. Please note that since we did not use mordants or else used substantive dyestuff, these are not “color-fast”, meaning the colors can fade over time or in the sun.
-For experts and professionals, the ratio of the dye is very important as even the smallest difference can create a very different outcome. For this fun experiment here, we were more relaxed with measuring and below we estimated for approximately 1 square foot of thin fabric.
-Have fun with it and don't be afraid to experiment!
(avocado pits will yield light pink taupe shades, onion skins pinky caramel shades, turmeric yellow shades, and black tea warm brown shades)
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
-100% natural fabric (cotton, silk, or wool) in white or light tones to overdye (Pillowcases, T-shirts, bandanas, Seek scarves, etc!). Your fabric should be recently washed as dirt and oils affect the outcome. Note that if the fabric/garment has stitching with thread that is synthetic, then the thread will not pick up these dyes.
-A designated dyeing pot - even though these dyes are non-toxic, make sure the pot is properly cleaned before using again. An aluminium pot is most helpful as this metal naturally acts as a bit of a mordant, but any stove-ready pot will work.
-Another pot, tub, bucket or bowl for soaking
-Water - at least 1 liter per square foot of fabric
-Gloves - these are not necessary, but helpful if you have sensitive skin
Dyestuffs (choose one or try them all!):
-3+ used black tea bags - new bags work, but are not necessary
-2+ avocado pits - they dry well in the open air or you can store them in the freezer until you have enough. Hass are known to work well but color is possible with any kind
-~1 teaspoon of turmeric
-3+ red onion skins - they can be stored in a bag or jar and can be fresh or dry
-flowers (roses, marigolds, oxalis, dahlias, and daffodils are some you can try) - as many as you like (without taking more than 10% of flowers from a patch if you are picking wild ones - please research and follow flower-picking laws in your region). *the dyes we suggest using are non-toxic but always do research and make sure you know the name of a plant or flower before you attempt to use for dyeing
If you do the flower eco printing (creating a print/texture using leaves and flower petals):
-Rubber bands or string
-A stovetop steamer, for best results. Boiling is acceptable
-A jar to wrap your fabric around
Make separate dye baths for each substance. The following set of instructions is for avocado pits, but read through for modifications to apply to onion skins, turmeric, and daffodils.
- To begin extracting the dye, submerge the first plant matter (either the avocado pits, turmeric, black tea, or red onion skins) into a pot with water. (Note that avocado pits can be whole, as they will begin to crack open with heat.)
- Heat the pot with the lid on for at least 1 hour. Different dyes require different levels of heat, with flowers requiring lower temperatures. We had our avocado pits on medium heat for about an hour and we recommend the same for onion skins. Both turmeric and black tea only need to be on high heat for about 10 minutes before being able to give a color, but more time won’t harm the bath.
- After about an hour of heat, turn off the stove and leave the contents to cool enough to pour through a fine strainer, keeping the liquid! You only need to strain the avocado pits, as they soften and break apart as they heat, and onion skins. The black tea bags can just be pulled out with a spoon and powdered turmeric should essentially dissolve.
- Put the pot back on the stove and heat for another hour. During this time, you can fill your other pot or bowl with warm or hot water and soak your fabric to open up the fibers a bit more.
- After this second hour of heat with the lid on (as to prevent as much evaporation as possible), let the pot sit for at least 30 minutes (but can sit for up to 24 hours). The longer the dye sits in an aluminum pot, the more mordanting effects there are from the metal and the stronger your color is likely to be.
- Now, submerge your damp fabric in the dyebath. Don’t be afraid to add more water to allow your fabric to move freely: there will still be the same amount of dye in a pot that seems diluted. Heat the pot gently for another hour and stir if you want an even color. It won’t harm the fabric to go longer but it won’t necessarily lead to darker color.
- Once you decide to remove your fabric, let it dry in the shade outdoors or inside.
- When dry, store your dry fabric away from direct light for at least a week before attempting to rinse out any color.
- After at least a week, you may now rinse your fabric by hand with warm water and a gentle, pH-neutral soap (many are, just check the label). Leave fabric to dry out of direct sunlight, and you’re finished!!
(as you can see above, the colors are more saturated on silk, which soaks up these natural dyes better than cotton)
ECO-PRINTING (creating a print/texture using leaves and flower petals):
- Prepare your fabric or garment by soaking it in a pot or bowl with warm or hot water so as to open up the fibers a bit more (the same as above), and leave it damp.
- Lay your fabric out flat and arrange flowers/foliage petals and leaves. Think about symmetry on a garment -- or not! Have fun with it!
- Fold your garment so the flowers or foliage have two layers of fabric to interact with, then roll it up on a jar that will fit in your pot. Tie it up like you would a roast and put rubber bands around the bundle to hold everything in place.
- Bring water to a boil and steam (or boil) your object. You could also submerge it in one of your other dye pots if you’d added foliage that doesn’t have dye properties itself. Keep heat on for one hour then let sit (if putting in dye bath, see steps #6-9 from above).
- Once you decide to remove your fabric, unwrap it, remove the flowers, rinse it with cold water and let it dry in the shade outdoors or inside.
- When dry, store your dry fabric away from direct light for at least a week.
- After at least a week, you may now rinse your fabric by hand with warm water and a gentle, pH-neutral soap (many are, just check the label). Leave fabric to dry out of direct sunlight, and you’re finished!! (note that this type of eco-printing can sometimes fade in the sun over time)
(the yellow oxalis flowers yielded the best results for us this time - more yellow colored daffodils would have been better than the peachy sorbet colored ones we had on hand)
ADDITIONAL THINGS TO TRY AND TO NOTE
-pH levels of the water changes tones
-Rusty iron can create color and printing as well (try adding vinegar also)
-Soy milk: To open up cellulose fibers more, especially cotton, you could consider soaking these fabrics in diluted soy milk before dyeing them. For higher concentration and more purity, you can make your own with dried soybeans, water, a cheesecloth, and a blender (look up instructions for how to do this). You can also buy unsweetened soy milk at the grocery store although it will be half as concentrated as homemade. The ratio of water to store bought soy milk for a soaking solution should be 5 to 1. Feel free to soak your fabric multiple times but do not let the soy milk ferment, as this happens relatively quickly.
BOOKS ABOUT NATURAL DYES WE LOVE
Botanical Color at Your Fingertips by Rebecca Desnos
The Modern Natural Dyer by Kristine Vejar
The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes by Sasha Duerr
SHOP NATURALLY DYED SEEK COLLECTIVE ITEMS
P.S. for fun we over dyed my Rainbow Wayfarer scarf with a combination of left over black tea+avocado+onion skins dyes!